“There are those who love to get dirty and fix things. They drink coffee at dawn, beer after work. And those who stay clean, just appreciate things. At breakfast they have milk and juice at night. There are those who do both, they drink tea.”
― Gary Snyder
There have always been lumberjack poets, dock-worker musicians and truck-driver landscape artists. Hell, I started taking photos and writing when I worked in the shipyard. My friends Brad and Dan grew up playing music together, rambling around in dented cars to bars and basements through the creative seasons of their young lives. In our home-town this meant not working in the shipyard, which meant a question mark where your future career should be. Sometimes in small towns in the Northwest things go like this: A young man grows up working in the woods, and through the peace and wholesome work there finds music or poetry, and brings that back to the city. Sometimes things go the other way. Sometimes the same things that motivate a person to find creative spaces in their youth lead them to working in the quiet of the outdoors later.
I know Dan as Danny. He says that on his first day working in the woods, his old boss said “You’re called Dan now.” Makes sense to me. He went on to start Lewis Forestry LLC, which has three employees: Dan’s wife Alycia, my friend Brad, and a young National Guardsman named Bennett, plus their two dogs Gifford and Cruiser. Together they oversee thousands of acres of commercial timber land, laying out harvests and establishing environmental boundaries. Ultimately this means hours driving deep into logging country, traipsing through thick brush, over fallen trees, and often standing at least ankle deep in lush streams and marshes. I can see how this suits Brad and Dan. The feeling isn’t so different from the countless backpacking trips and campouts we’ve taken—each of us splitting off to explore what we want, regrouping for a talk or a smoke, and scattering back into the woods.
On the road into the forest, Dan points out the spot where he got a flat tire on the way out last week, and then the spot where the spare went flat after that. I can’t help but think about flat tires on tour vans in nowhere towns all across America. He and Bennett had to drive fifteen miles on logging roads with a flat tire before a tow truck would pick them up. We passed a few loggers and some other pickups on the way in, waving at each one. One guy failed to wave back and Dan said, “Must be out here fishing. If they ain’t wavin’, they ain’t workin’.” Now I wave when I pass big trucks on logging roads, though I’m sure they can tell I’m out there to write or take photos or do pretty much anything but timber work.
The two units we worked on a rainy Tuesday were wild, muddy, steep, and grown over with huckleberries. Dan brought his new elkhound puppy for his first day on the job. The dog is named Gifford for forester Gifford Pinchot, the first-ever chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Gifford the dog proved a perfect forest companion, following on Dan’s heels through miles of thick woods and only occasionally tripping on the strings Dan and his crew use to measure the distance from streams to boundary trees. It’s quiet work. Aside from explaining to me what they were doing, it’s easy to imagine entire days when they didn’t have to see or speak to anyone.
By the end of our day we had hiked nearly eight miles. This I’m told is a relatively mild day in the field. Each of us spent most of the day alone, within shouting distance of one another. Like countless scruffy 30-something men before me, I laid on a log taking notes about a story I might write some-day. The moss on the log was soft and thick, and the little seasonal stream under it was babbling me into a relaxed and dreamy state—right up until Gifford came and trod over my chest, announcing that it was time to hike back to the truck and back to work.
Story and Photography by Brandon Scott Herrell